Listen to this story

--:--

--:--

How to Stick to Your Fitness Habits the Easy Way, According to Science

How to hack your own willpower and motivation, using tactics gleaned from cutting-edge research

John Fawkes
Aug 2, 2018 · 13 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Photo by composita on Pixabay.

How to Learn Restraint If You’ve Picked Up a Bad Habit

There’s a common saying that willpower is like a muscle: it gets stronger when you use it. The truth is more complex. There’s mixed evidence for how much people can really improve their self-control.

Don’t Resist Temptation — Avoid It

Saying “no” to a tempting bad habit might seem like a simple matter of self-control. But it turns out that people with high self-control may not necessarily be better at resisting temptation. They might just experience it less often in the first place.

Treat Willpower as an Unlimited Resource

Until recently, the leading theory about willpower or self-control was something called “ego depletion”. Ego depletion portrays willpower as something like the stamina bar in a video game. It goes down when you use it, and you replenish it by resting (or consuming food and beverages).

Leverage Your Motivation

A recent series of studies by several teams of Canadian researchers suggests that your ability to say “no” to temptations also depends on where your motivation comes from.

Use Cognitive Dissonance to Build Intrinsic Motivation

You’ve probably heard of cognitive dissonance, but if not, here’s the quick summary: people try to keep all of their beliefs and actions consistent with each other. We become uncomfortable when our beliefs and our actions are inconsistent with each other. We tend to try to lower our stress by bringing them into alignment.

Minimize Stress

Stress plays a major role in unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, and sleep disruption. Two recent studies demonstrated the effectiveness of stress management training in obese Greek and African American women. The Greek study noted that subjects who received stress management training engaged in more restrained eating. The American study found that stress management training decreased levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone.

The Instagram Effect, or Why Food Porn Is Good for You

Younger readers might find this hard to believe, but back in the day, people didn’t take pictures of everything they ate and post them on the internet. In fact, I’m pretty sure that back then “food porn” referred to actual porn involving food.

Practice Remembered Enjoyment

Every client I’ve had who has succeeded in improving their diet has learned to enjoy eating healthy food.

Key Takeaways

Here’s a quick summary of every strategy presented in this article:

  • Start thinking of your willpower as an unlimited resource. Take the attitude that you don’t have to feel depleted of the ability to make a good choice unless you choose to let that happen.
  • Reward yourself for following your diet and fitness program with verbal praise—either via self-talk or by having an accountability partner — and mutually congratulate each other for doing well.
  • Frequently remind yourself of the time, energy and money you’ve already invested in your health to help build a stronger self-image as a healthy person.
  • Minimize stress. Kill it at the source if possible; otherwise meditate, sleep well, and find effective ways to de-stress. Have fun!
  • Learn ways you can enjoy exercise and find it relaxing. Reframe exercise, cooking healthy food, and other good habits as stress relievers.
  • Take photos of healthy food before you eat it, and post them to social media. Reflect on your enjoyment of them. Conversely, you can try viewing photos of junk food, not healthy food.
  • Make a deliberate practice of remembering how much you enjoy engaging in health habits like eating healthy food, exercising, or getting to bed on time.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most…

Thanks to Terrie Schweitzer

John Fawkes

Written by

Los Angeles-based personal trainer, online fitness & nutrition coach, and health & fitness writer. https://www.coach.me/JohnFawkes?ref=ModAV

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

John Fawkes

Written by

Los Angeles-based personal trainer, online fitness & nutrition coach, and health & fitness writer. https://www.coach.me/JohnFawkes?ref=ModAV

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store